Walt Disney’s latest animated film, Strange world, isn’t just a daring Jules Verne-inspired sci-fi adventure. The film, which hits theaters November 23, also demonstrates the Mouse House’s newfound commitment to LGBTQ representation by featuring the first gay teen in a Disney cartoon. That character is Ethan Clade, and he’s voiced by our gay comedian and actor Jaboukie Young-White.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” Young-White tells Yahoo Entertainment of playing the barrier-breaking role. “It was beautiful to be a part of it, and something I wish I could have seen when I was my age.”
In Strange world, Ethan is the youngest member of the illustrious Clade family – a clan that includes famous explorers like his grandfather, Jaeger (voiced by Dennis Quaid), famous pilots like his mother, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and even famous farmers like his father, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), who discovered and cultivated the energy-producing crop that powers all the devices of this world. Meanwhile, Ethan tries to find his own place in the world, a personal journey that includes a fling with a handsome college friend that he hopes will blossom into love.
All three of Ethan’s elders accept and encourage his choice of mate, which Young-White says is one of the things he appreciated most about the script, which was written by Raya and the Last Dragon‘s Qui Nguyen, who co-directed the film with Vaiana coxswain Don Hall. “This isn’t a coming out story, and he’s not looking to accept his identity,” the former said Daily show correspondent says. “That’s just who he is, and it’s not underlined or made important. It’s an aspect of Ethan and one of the many things that make him who he is. I loved that.”
“It was always part of the movie’s DNA and part of who Ethan was,” echoes Strange world co-director Don Hall, who co-directed the film with screenwriter Qui Nguyen. (The two previously collaborated on the 2021 animated hit Raya and the Last Dragon.) “The fact that he’s sassy and a little impulsive at times, and unwaveringly empathetic when it comes to every little thing, is why he becomes the film’s environmentalist. The film’s environmental message flows through Ethan, so to speak. .”
Not surprisingly, Gyllenhaal and Union are equally proud of their fictional son, and the fact that Strange world puts an interracial family at the center. “It’s so beautiful to see such a diverse cast and have these ideas normalized in the world,” notes the Ambulance star. “And what’s great about the movie is that the only way this family can save the world they love so much is if they start to understand and listen to each other.”
For its part, Union notes that her recent remake of Cheaper by the dozen — which premiered on Disney+ in March — featured one of Disney’s first live action gay teens (played by Caylee Blosensk), but says much of that storyline was played out in the finished film. “In this one it’s very clear,” says de Bring it on star, raising a trans teen Zaya with her husband Dwayne Wade. “I love that we’ve created a space where you can showcase a loving, affectionate family that creates enough loving space for everyone to chart their own course in life. I’m absolutely honored to be part of the telling that story.”
Even though Disney has made it a point to be more LGBTQ inclusive in its movies and TV shows, that approach has had real implications for the studio. Both the 2020 animated film, Forwardfeaturing Disney’s first self-titled lesbian character, and that of 2022 Light year, which featured the studio’s first same-sex kiss, were banned in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states where homosexual behavior is still illegal. (Several live-action Disney movies, including West Side Story and Eternalsmet the same fate for including LGBTQ characters and themes.)
Asked if she will be sad if Strange world has been banned in the same Gulf states that canceled the releases of Forward and Light year, Union does not hesitate. “I will be absolutely sad because all you’re doing is denying people information that we exist. You’re just denying reality.” As for her on-screen son, Young-White says he prefers to focus his attention on the audience shall be able to see the movie during the Thanksgiving holiday. “Because what this movie will do for the people it reaches would overshadow all the other things that might be more of a downer. I think I’m more excited to see how the people who need this deal with it.”
Not for nothing, but Union has her own semi-funny suggestion for those viewers whose governments might otherwise prevent them from traveling to Strange world. “What I’ve learned about the internet is that once it’s there, it’s there,” she says with a laugh. “I never want to encourage piracy, but I understand how these things work! People who want to see it will find a way. The more certain countries deny their citizens the chance to see things, the more they’ll find a way.” “
Strange world will premiere in theaters on November 23